Here is the summary for this week’s Monday Economic Report:
While equity markets around the world continue to worry about the emerging markets, the economic news in the United States has been more encouraging. In particular, we learned that real GDP grew at a relatively strong pace in the fourth quarter, up 3.2 percent. Robust growth in consumer spending and exports boosted the nation’s output, with the main drag being federal government spending. Note that this was the quarter that included the partial government shutdown, which might explain part of that decrease, with defense and nondefense government spending lower. Yet, the key takeaway from this data was the strength of the U.S. economy as we ended 2013, with real GDP increasing 3.7 percent at the annual rate in the second half of the year.
At the same time, it is worth noting that real GDP rose a more-disappointing 1.9 percent for 2013 as a whole, below the 2.8 percent figure seen in 2012. Likewise, personal income growth also decelerated, from 4.2 percent in 2012 to 2.8 percent in 2013. Personal incomes remained flat in general for the month. Nonetheless, total wages and salaries in the manufacturing sector increased from $760.9 billion in November to $763.6 billion in December, with annual growth of 1.9 percent. Meanwhile, personal spending in December rose 0.4 percent, extending the 0.6 percent gain observed in November. While the monthly increase resulted from a huge jump in nondurable goods spending, the annual data reflected larger increases for durable goods (7.1 percent versus 2.1 percent). In other developments, consumer confidence appears to have rebounded after falling during the government shutdown, as reflected in both Conference Board and University of Michigan reports.
Some of the other reports for the manufacturing sector were mixed. Regional sentiment surveys, such as those from the Dallas and Richmond Federal Reserve Banks, continue to show expanding levels of sales and production. Moreover, respondents remain mostly upbeat in their outlook for the next six months. In contrast, new durable goods orders dipped 4.3 percent in December. Moreover, even excluding the highly-volatile transportation sector, new orders would have fallen 1.6 percent, suggesting broader weaknesses beyond aircraft and motor vehicles. Shipments of durable goods were also lower. Weather could have been a factor, as well as the timing of some orders due to the holidays. As such, it will be interesting to see if upcoming data reveals the December data as an outlier.
For its part, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) of the Federal Reserve stressed the positive, noting that “growth in economic activity picked up in recent quarters.” As expected, the FOMC further reduced its purchases of long-term and mortgage-backed securities from $75 billion each month to $65 billion. It had begun to taper these asset purchases at its December meeting. This marked the last meeting chaired by Ben Bernanke, as Janet Yellen became the chair of the Federal Reserve Board on February 1. The FOMC will continue to maintain its “highly accommodative” monetary policies for the foreseeable future, with short-term interest rates remaining effectively zero beyond when the economy reaches 6.5 percent. One notable element in the FOMC statement was that none of the participants dissented this time around. While the committee does have new participants for 2014, this was the first statement to not have a dissention since the June 2011 meeting.
This week, the focus will return to the labor market with the release of January employment numbers on Friday. Following the lackluster nonfarm payroll growth of December, the consensus is for 175,000 net new workers to have been added in January. For manufacturers, we will be looking to see if we can extend the strong hiring gains observed from August to December, adding an average of 16,000 jobs per month during that five-month period. Another highlight will be the December trade data, which will allow us to see if manufacturers were able to improve upon the mostly discouraging export figures that we have seen so far for 2013. Other economic indicators to watch include new data on construction spending, consumer credit, the Institute for Supply Management’s purchasing managers’ index, new factory orders and productivity.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.